Daily Archives: April 13, 2017

The Truth of the Cross — Free eBook

This Passion Week, and thanks to Reformation Trust, we’re giving away the ebook edition of R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross.|

This book serves as an uncompromising reminder that the atonement of Christ is an absolutely essential doctrine of the Christian faith, one that should be studied and understood by all believers. “R.C. Sproul blows the fog away in this wonderfully clear, theologically profound, and pastorally rich work. Learn afresh or anew what God has accomplished in the cross, so that you will boast only in the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, Professor
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“We can give thanks for this volume by R. C. Sproul…because in it he steps into the breach once more to provide a clear, concise, and thoughtful case for the biblical and historic Christian gospel of the cross.”

Dr. R. Scott Clark, Professor
Westminster Seminary California

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10 Reasons to Accept the Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Fact

10 Reasons to Accept the Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Fact

By Brian Chilton

When I left the ministry due to my skepticism, one of the factors involved in my departure concerned the reliability of the New Testament documents and the resurrection of Jesus. The folks from the Jesus Seminar had me second-guessing whether I could trust what the New Testament said and if I could truly accept the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In July of 2005, my life changed. I entered the Lifeway Christian Bookstore in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and read three books that changed my life more than any other book outside the Bible. I discovered Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and McDowell’s A Ready Defense. I discovered that there are many reasons for accepting the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as a historical fact.

Through the years, the evidence has increasingly mounted for the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection. This article will provide 10 of the most fascinating arguments for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This list is not exhaustive and my dealings with each argument is extremely brief. Nevertheless, I hope this list will provide a starting point for you to consider the authenticity of Jesus’s resurrection.

  1. The First Eyewitnesses were Women. The first eyewitnesses of the resurrection were women. All the Gospels note that the first individuals to discover the tomb empty were women. Matthew notes that “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb…The angel told the women, ‘Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the play where he lay” (Matthew 28:1, 5-6).[1] Women were not held in high esteem. In Greco-Roman culture, a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court. In Jewish circles, it took the testimony of two women to equate that of one man. If one were to invent a story, the last people one would place as the first witnesses would have been women, unless it were otherwise true.
  2. Minimal Facts Concerning the Resurrection. Gary Habermas has popularized the so-called minimal facts argument for the resurrection. The minimal facts are those things that are accepted by nearly all New Testament scholars. The minimal facts are “1. Jesus died by crucifixion. 2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them. 3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed. 4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed. 5. The tomb was empty.” [2] These facts are nearly universally accepted by New Testament scholars, including liberals…


10 Reasons to Accept the Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Fact – Bellator Christi

April 13, 2017: Verse of the day


In keeping with first-century Jewish customs, Jesus and the disciples were reclining at the table and eating, resting on cushions with their heads toward the table and their feet extended away from it. The first Passover in Egypt was eaten in a hurry. As the Lord God instructed the Israelites, “You shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover” (Ex. 12:11). But through the centuries, Passover celebrations had become prolonged events, allowing the participants to linger during the meal as Jesus and the disciples did on this occasion. This final Passover lasted long enough for Jesus to wash the disciples’ feet, confront Judas Iscariot, eat the Passover meal, institute the Lord’s Table, and give the disciples a significant amount of additional instruction (cf. John 13–16).

The Passover consisted of several features. The feast began with a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance, protection, and goodness. The opening prayer was followed by the first of four cups of diluted red wine. A ceremonial washing of the hands came next, signifying the need for holiness and cleansing from sin. It was probably at this point in the meal, at the very moment they should have been recognizing their sinfulness, that the Twelve began debating who among them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Jesus responded by washing their feet and teaching them an unforgettable lesson about humility (cf. John 13:3–20).

The hand-washing ceremony was followed by the eating of bitter herbs that symbolized the harsh bondage and affliction the Hebrew people endured while enslaved in Egypt. Along with the bitter herbs, loaves of flat bread would also be broken, distributed, and dipped into a thick paste made from ground fruit and nuts. The eating of bitter herbs was followed by the singing of the first two psalms of the Hallel, and the drinking of the second cup of wine. The Hallel (Pss. 113–18) consisted of hymns of praise and is the word from which the term “hallelujah” (meaning, “praise the Lord”) is derived. At this point, the head of the household would also explain the meaning of the Passover.

Next, the roasted lamb and unleavened bread would be served. After washing his hands again, the head of the household would distribute pieces of the bread to be eaten with the sacrificial lamb. When the main course was completed, a third cup of wine would be received. To complete the traditional ceremony, the participants would sing the rest of the Hallel (Pss. 115–18), and finally, they would drink the fourth cup of wine.

At some point in the celebration, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” The word betray (a form of the Greek verb paradidōmi) means “to give over” and was often used to describe criminals being arrested or prisoners being delivered to punishment. Though, on several prior occasions, Jesus had predicted His death, He had not previously explained to the disciples that He would be betrayed by one of them.

Jesus’ words echoed those of David who, after being betrayed by one he trusted, exclaimed,

For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together, [and] walked in the house of God in the throng. (Ps. 55:12–14)

In Psalm 41:9, David similarly lamented, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” David’s pain was caused by the betrayal of his advisor Ahithophel, who joined Absalom’s rebellion against David (cf. 2 Sam. 16:15–17:3). In a culture where eating together was regarded as a sign of friendship, to betray someone while eating with them compounded the treachery, making it even more contemptible (John 13:18).

Jesus, of course, knew who it was that would betray Him since He knew what was in the hearts of everyone (John 2:24), including the wicked intentions of Judas (John 6:70–71; 13:11). But the other disciples suspected nothing. Judas was so skilled at hiding his hypocrisy that they trusted him as their treasurer, even while he was pilfering money from them (cf. John 12:6). They ignorantly considered him a man of integrity.[1]

18 The Passover meal was originally eaten while standing: “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover” (Ex 12:11). But in Jesus’ time it had become customary to eat it in a reclining position. While Jews normally sat for meals, reclining was the posture for a more formal banquet or celebratory meal. Jesus uses the solemn formula “I tell you the truth” (cf. v. 9 and comments at 3:28) to disclose the fact that one of them would betray him.

Jesus further identified the betrayer as “one who is eating with me.” Meals were rituals of social status in the Mediterranean world, and to share table fellowship with someone indicated friendship and social acceptance. To betray a friend after eating with him was, and still is, regarded as the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East. Jesus may have had in mind Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”[2]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 285–287). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 944–945). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


April 13 – Being Filled with Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7).


Mercy is a characteristic of true believers.

Like the other Beatitudes, Matthew 5:7 contains a twofold message: to enter the Kingdom, you must seek mercy; once there, you must show mercy to others.

The thought of showing mercy probably surprised Christ’s audience because both the Jews and the Romans tended to be merciless. The Romans exalted justice, courage, discipline, and power. To them mercy was a sign of weakness. For example, if a Roman father wanted his newborn child to live, he simply held his thumb up; if he wanted it to die, he held his thumb down.

Jesus repeatedly rebuked the Jewish religious leaders for their egotistical, self-righteous, and condemning attitudes. They were intolerant of anyone who failed to live by their traditions. They even withheld financial support from their own needy parents (Matt. 15:3–9).

Like the people of Jesus’ time, many people today also lack mercy. Some are outright cruel and unkind, but most are so consumed with their quest for self-gratification that they simply neglect others.

Christians, on the other hand, should be characterized by mercy. In fact, James used mercy to illustrate true faith: “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:14–17). He also said mercy is characteristic of godly wisdom: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (3:17).

As one who has received mercy from God, let mercy be the hallmark of your life.


Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His great mercy. ✧ Ask Him to give you opportunities to show mercy to others today.

For Further Study: Read Luke 10:25–37. ✧ Who questioned Jesus, and what was his motive? ✧ What characteristics of mercy were demonstrated by the Samaritan traveler? ✧ What challenge did Jesus give His hearer? Are you willing to meet that challenge?[1]

Happy Are the Merciful



Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (5:7)

The first four beatitudes deal entirely with inner principles, principles of the heart and mind. They are concerned with the way we see ourselves before God. The last four are outward manifestations of those attitudes. Those who in poverty of spirit recognize their need of mercy are led to show mercy to others (v. 7). Those who mourn over their sin are led to purity of heart (v. 8). Those who are meek always seek to make peace (v. 9). And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are never unwilling to pay the price of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (v. 10).

The concept of mercy is seen throughout Scripture, from the Fall to the consummation of history at the return of Christ. Mercy is a desperately needed gift of God’s providential and redemptive work on behalf of sinners-and the Lord requires His people to follow His example by extending mercy to others.

To discover its essence we will look at three basic aspects of mercy: its meaning, its source, and its practice.

The Meaning of Mercy

For the most part, the days in which Jesus lived and taught were not characterized by mercy. The Jewish religionists themselves were not inclined to show mercy, because mercy is not characteristic of those who are proud, self-righteous, and judgmental. To many-perhaps most-of Jesus’ hearers, showing mercy was considered one of the least of virtues, if it was thought to be a virtue at all. It was in the same category as love-reserved for those who had shown the virtue to you. You loved those who loved you, and you showed mercy to those who showed mercy to you. That attitude was condemned by Jesus later in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy’ ” (Matt. 5:43). But such a shallow, selfish kind of love that even the outcast tax-gatherers practiced (v. 46) was not acceptable to the Savior. He said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. … For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? … And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 44–47).

Yet many people have interpreted this beatitude in another way that is just as selfish and humanistic: they maintain that our being merciful causes those around us, especially those to whom we show mercy, to be merciful to us. Mercy given will mean mercy received. For such people, mercy is shown to others purely in an effort toward self-seeking.

The ancient rabbi Gamaliel is quoted in the Talmud as saying, “Whenever thou hast mercy, God will have mercy upon thee, and if thou hast not mercy, neither will God have mercy on thee.” Gamaliel’s idea is right. When God is involved there will be mercy for mercy. “If you forgive men for their transgressions,” Jesus said, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14–15).

But as a platitude applied among men, the principle does not work. One writer sentimentally says, “This is the great truth of life: if people see us care, they will care.” Yet neither Scripture nor experience bears out that idea. God works that way, but the world does not. With God there is always proper reciprocation, and with interest. If we honor God, He will honor us; if we show mercy to others, especially to His children, He will show even more abundant mercy to us. But that is not the world’s way.

A popular Roman philosopher called mercy “the disease of the soul.” It was the supreme sign of weakness. Mercy was a sign that you did not have what it takes to be a real man and especially a real Roman. The Romans glorified manly courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and, above all, absolute power. They looked down on mercy, because mercy to them was weakness, and weakness was despised above all other human limitations.

During much of Roman history, a father had the right of patria opitestas, of deciding whether or not his newborn child would live or die. As the infant was held up for him to see, the father would turn his thumb up if he wanted the child to live, down if he wanted it to die. If his thumb turned down the child was immediately drowned. Citizens had the same life-or-death power over slaves. At any time and for any reason they could kill and bury a slave, with no fear of arrest or reprisal. Husbands could even have their wives put to death on the least provocation. Today abortion reflects the same merciless attitude. A society that despises mercy is a society that glorifies brutality.

The underlying motive of self-concern has characterized men in general and societies in general since the Fall. We see it expressed today in such sayings as, “If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.” Such popular proverbs are generally true, because they reflect the basic selfish nature of fallen man. Men are not naturally inclined to repay mercy for mercy.

The best illustration of that fact is the Lord Himself. Jesus Christ was the most merciful human being who ever lived. He reached out to heal the sick, restore the crippled, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and even life to the dead. He found prostitutes, tax collectors, the debauched and the drunken, and drew them into His circle of love and forgiveness. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Him to see if He would agree to her stoning, He confronted them with their merciless hypocrisy: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” When no one stepped forward to condemn her, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:7–11). Jesus wept with the sorrowing and gave companionship to the lonely. He took little children into His arms and blessed them. He was merciful to everyone. He was mercy incarnate, just as He was love incarnate.

Yet what was the response to Jesus’ mercy? He shamed the woman’s accusers into inaction, but they did not become merciful. By the time the accounts of John 8 ended, Jesus’ opponents “picked up stones to throw at Him” (v. 59). When the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus “eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers,” they asked His disciples why their Master associated with such unworthy people (Mark 2:16).

The more Jesus showed mercy, the more He showed up the unmercifulness of the Jewish religious leaders. The more He showed mercy, the more they were determined to put Him out of the way. The ultimate outcome of His mercy was the cross. In Jesus’ crucifixion, two merciless systems-merciless government and merciless religion-united to kill Him. Totalitarian Rome joined intolerant Judaism to destroy the Prince of mercy.

The fifth beatitude does not teach that mercy to men brings mercy from men, but that mercy to men brings mercy from God. If we are merciful to others, God will be merciful to us, whether men are or not. God is the subject of the second clause, just as in the other beatitudes. It is God who gives the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit, comfort to those who mourn, the earth to the meek, and satisfaction to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who are merciful … shall receive mercy from God. God gives the divine blessings to those who obey His divine standards.

Merciful is from eleēmōn, from which we also get eleemosynary, meaning beneficial or charitable. Hebrews 2:17 speaks of Jesus as our “merciful and faithful high priest.” Christ is the supreme example of mercy and the supreme dispenser of mercy. It is from Jesus Christ that both redeeming and sustaining mercy come.

In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) the same term is used to translate the Hebrew ḥesed, one of the most commonly used words to describe God’s character. It is usually translated as mercy, love, lovingkindness, or steadfast love (Ps. 17:7; 51:1; Isa. 63:7; Jer. 9:24; etc.). The basic meaning is to give help to the afflicted and to rescue the helpless. It is compassion in action.

Jesus is not speaking of detached or powerless sentiment that is unwilling or unable to help those for whom there is sympathy. Nor is He speaking of the false mercy, the feigned pity, that gives help only to salve a guilty conscience or to impress others with its appearance of virtue. And it is not passive, silent concern which, though genuine, is unable to give tangible help. It is genuine compassion expressed in genuine help, selfless concern expressed in selfless deeds.

Jesus says in effect, “The people in My kingdom are not takers but givers, not pretending helpers but practical helpers. They are not condemners but mercy givers.” The selfish, self-satisfied, and self-righteous do not bother to help anyone-unless they think something is in it for them. Sometimes they even justify their lack of love and mercy under the guise of religious duty. Once when the Pharisees and scribes questioned why His disciples did not observe the traditions of the elders, Jesus replied, “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:10–13). In the name of hypocritical religious tradition, compassion toward parents in such a case was actually forbidden.

Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not simply feeling compassion but showing compassion, not only sympathizing but giving a helping hand. Mercy is giving food to the hungry, comfort to the bereaved, love to the rejected, forgiveness to the offender, companionship to the lonely. It is therefore one of the loveliest and noblest of all virtues.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (4.1.180–85) Portia says,

The quality of mercy is not strain’d;

It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven,

Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d.

It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:

’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown:

Mercy and Forgiveness

A clearer understanding of mercy can be gained by working through some comparisons. Mercy has much in common with forgiveness but is distinct from it. Paul tells us that Jesus “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). God’s forgiveness of our sins flows from His mercy. But mercy is bigger than forgiveness, because God is merciful to us even when we do not sin, just as we can be merciful to those who have never done anything against us. God’s mercy does not just forgive our transgressions, but reaches to all our weakness and need.

“The Lord’s lovingkindness [mercies, KJV] indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22). God’s mercy to His children never ceases.

Mercy and Love

Forgiveness flows out of mercy, and mercy flows out of love. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5). Just as mercy is more than forgiveness, love is more than mercy. Love manifests itself in many ways that do not involve either forgiveness or mercy. Love loves even when there is no wrong to forgive or need to meet. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, although they both are without sin and without need. They both love the holy angels, although the angels are without sin and need. When we enter heaven we, too, will be without sin or need, yet God’s love for us will, in comparison to eternity, only be just beginning.

Mercy is the physician; love is the friend. Mercy acts because of need; love acts because of affection, whether there is need or not. Mercy is reserved for times of trouble; love is constant. There can be no true mercy apart from love, but there can be true love apart from mercy.

Mercy and Grace

Mercy is also related to grace, which flows out of love just as forgiveness flows out of mercy. In each of his three pastoral epistles Paul includes the words “grace, mercy and peace” in his salutations (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4, KJV). Grace and mercy have the closest possible relationship; yet they are different. Mercy and its related terms all have to do with pain, misery, and distress-with the consequences of sin. Whether because of our individual sins or because of the sinful world in which we live, all of our problems, in the last analysis, are sin problems. It is with those problems that mercy gives help. Grace, on the other hand, deals with sin itself. Mercy deals with the symptoms, grace with the cause. Mercy offers relief from punishment; grace offers pardon for the crime. Mercy eliminates the pain; grace cures the disease.

When the good Samaritan bound up the wounds of the man who had been beaten and robbed, he showed mercy. When he took him to the nearest inn and paid for his lodging until he was well, he showed grace. His mercy relieved the pain; his grace provided for healing.

Mercy relates to the negative; grace relates to the positive. In relation to salvation, mercy says, “No hell,” whereas grace says, “Heaven.” Mercy says, “I pity you”; grace says, “I pardon you.”

Mercy and Justice

Mercy is also related to justice, although, on the surface, they seem to be incompatible. Justice gives exactly what is deserved; whereas mercy gives less punishment and more help than is deserved. It is difficult, therefore, for some people to understand how God can be both just and merciful at the same time to the same person. If God is completely just, how could He ever not punish sin totally? For Him to be merciful would seem to negate His justice. The truth is that God does not show mercy without punishing sin; and for Him to offer mercy without punishment would negate His justice.

Mercy that ignores sin is false mercy and is no more merciful than it is just. It is that sort of false mercy that Saul showed to King Agag after God had clearly instructed Saul to kill every Amalekite (1 Sam. 15:3, 9). It is that sort of false mercy that David showed to his rebellious and wicked son Absalom when he was young. Because David did not deal with Absalom’s sin, his attitude toward his son was unrighteous sentimentality, neither justice nor mercy-and it served to confirm Absalom in his wickedness.

That sort of false mercy is common in our day. It is thought to be unloving and unkind to hold people responsible for their sins. But that is a cheap grace that is not just and is not merciful, that offers neither punishment nor pardon for sin. And because it merely overlooks sin, it leaves sin; and the one who relies on that sort of mercy is left in his sin. To cancel justice is to cancel mercy. To ignore sin is to deny the truth; and mercy and truth are inseparable, they “are met together” (Ps. 85:10, KJV). In every true act of mercy, someone pays the price. God did, the Good Samaritan did, and so do we. To be merciful is to bear the load for someone else.

To expect to enter the sphere of God’s mercy without repenting from our sin is but wishful thinking. And for the church to offer hope of God’s mercy apart from repentance from sin is to offer false hope through a false gospel. God offers nothing but merciless judgment to those who will not turn from their sin to the Savior. Neither relying on good works nor relying on God’s overlooking sin will bring salvation. Neither trusting in personal goodness nor presuming on God’s goodness will bring entrance into the kingdom. Those who do not come to God on His terms have no claim on His mercy.

God’s mercy is grounded not only in His love but in His justice. It is not grounded in sentiment but in Christ’s atoning blood, which paid the penalty for and cleanses from sin those who believe in Him. Without being punished and removed, even the least of our sin would eternally separate us from God.

The good news of the gospel is that Christ paid the penalty for all sins in order that God might be merciful to all sinners. On the cross Jesus satisfied God’s justice, and when a person trusts in that satisfying sacrifice God opens the floodgates of His mercy. The good news of the gospel is not that God winked at justice, glossed over sin, and compromised righteousness. The good news is that in the shedding of Christ’s blood justice was satisfied, sin was forgiven, righteousness was fulfilled, and mercy was made available. There is never an excuse for sin, but always a remedy.

Mercy, therefore, is more than forgiveness and less than love. It is different from grace and is one with justice. And what is true of God’s mercy should be true of ours.

Mercy led Abraham to rescue his selfish nephew Lot from Chedorlaomer and his allies. Mercy led Joseph to forgive his brothers and to provide them food for their families. Mercy led Moses to plead with the Lord to remove the leprosy with which his sister Miriam had been punished. Mercy led David to spare the life of Saul.

Those who are unmerciful will not receive mercy from God. In one of his imprecatory psalms David says of an unnamed wicked man, “Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that He may cut off their memory from the earth.” David’s anger was not vengeful or retaliatory. That man and his family did not deserve mercy because they were not themselves merciful. “He did not remember to show lovingkindness, but persecuted the afflicted and needy man, and the despondent in heart, to put them to death” (Ps. 109:14–16).

Paul characterizes godless men as unrighteous, wicked, greedy, evil, envious, murderous, deceitful, malicious, gossiping, slanderous, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, and unloving. The climaxing evil of that long list, however, is being unmerciful (Rom. 1:29–31). Mercilessness is the capstone marking those who reject God’s mercy.

“The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm” (Prov. 11:17). The way to happiness is through mercy; the way to misery is through cruelty. The truly merciful person is even kind to animals, whereas the merciless person is cruel to everything. “A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Prov. 12:10).

In His Olivet discourse Jesus warned that those who claim to belong to Him but who have not served and shown compassion on the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned will not be allowed to enter His kingdom. He will say to them, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” When they say, “ ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry,’ … He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’ ” (Matt. 25:41–45).

James writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:10–13a).

In the midst of our corrupt, ego-entered, and selfish society that tells us to grab everything we can get, the voice of God tells us to give everything we can give. The true character of mercy is in giving-giving compassion, giving help, giving time, giving forgiveness, giving money, giving ourselves. The children of the King are merciful. Those who are merciless face judgment; but “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b).

The Source of Mercy

Pure mercy is a gift of God. It is not a natural attribute of man but is a gift that comes with the new birth. We can be merciful in its full sense and with a righteous motive only when we have experienced God’s mercy. Mercy is only for those who through grace and divine power have met the requirements of the first four beatitudes. It is only for those who by the work of the Holy Spirit bow humbly before God in poverty of spirit, who mourn over and turn from their sin, who are meek and submissive to His control, and who hunger and thirst above all else for His righteousness. The way of mercy is the way of humility, repentance, surrender, and holiness.

Balaam continually prostituted his ministry, trying to keep within the letter of God’s will while conspiring with a pagan king against God’s people. He presumptuously prayed, “Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!” (Num. 23:10). As one Puritan commentator observed, Balaam wanted to die like the righteous, but he did not want to live like the righteous. Many people want God’s mercy but not on God’s terms.

God has both absolute and relative attributes. His absolute attributes-such as love, truth, and holiness-have characterized Him from all eternity. They were characteristic of Him before He created angels, or the world, or man. But His relative attributes-such as mercy, justice, and grace-were not expressed until His creatures came into being. In fact they were not manifest until man, the creature made in His own image, sinned and became separated from his Creator. Apart from sin and evil, mercy, justice, and grace have no meaning.

When man fell, God’s love was extended to His fallen creatures in mercy. And only when they receive His mercy can they reflect His mercy. God is the source of mercy. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness [mercy] toward those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:11). It is because we have the resource of God’s mercy that Jesus commanded, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Donald Barnhouse writes,

When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all the work of God for man’s salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us. For anyone to pray, “God have mercy on me” is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God ever will have on man He has already had, when Christ died. That is the totality of mercy. There could not be any more. … The fountain is now opened, and it is flowing, and it continues to flow freely. (Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 4:4)

We cannot have the blessing apart from the Blesser. We cannot even meet the condition apart from the One who has set the condition. We are blessed by God when we are merciful to others, and we are able to be merciful to others because we have already received salvation’s mercy. And when we share the mercy received, we shall receive mercy even beyond what we already have.

We never sing more truthfully than when we sing, “Mercy there was great and grace was free; pardon there was multiplied to me; there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.”

The Practice of Mercy

The most obvious way we can show mercy is through physical acts, as did the good Samaritan. As Jesus specifically commands, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and give any other practical help that is needed. In serving others in need, we demonstrate a heart of mercy.

It is helpful to note that the way of mercy did not begin with the New Testament. God has always intended for mercy to characterize His people. The Old Testament law taught, “You shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (Deut. 15:7–8). Even in the year of release, when all debts were canceled, Israelites were to give their poor countrymen whatever they needed. They were warned, “Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing” (v. 9).

Mercy is also to be shown in our attitudes. Mercy does not hold a grudge, harbor resentment, capitalize on another’s failure or weakness, or publicize another’s sin. On a great table at which he fed countless hundreds of people, Augustine inscribed,

Whoever thinks that he is able,

To nibble at the life of absent friends,

Must know that he’s unworthy of this table.

The vindictive, heartless, indifferent are not subjects of Christ’s kingdom. When they pass need by on the other side, as the priest and the Levite did in the story of the good Samaritan, they show they have passed Christ by.

Mercy is also to be shown spiritually. First, it is shown through pity. Augustine said, “If I weep for the body from which the soul is departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God is departed?” The sensitive Christian will grieve more for lost souls than for lost bodies. Because we have experienced God’s mercy, we are to have great concern for those who have not.

Jesus’ last words from the cross were words of mercy. For His executioners He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). To the penitent thief hanging beside Him He said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (v. 43). To His mother He said, “ ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple [John], ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:26–27). Like his Master, Stephen prayed for those who were taking his life, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).

Second, we are to show spiritual mercy by confrontation. Paul says that, as Christ’s servants, we should gently correct “those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We are to be willing to confront others about their sin in order that they might come to God for salvation. When certain teachers were “upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain,” Paul told Titus to “reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:11, 13). Love and mercy will be severe when that is necessary for the sake of an erring brother and for the sake of Christ’s church. In such cases it is cruel to say nothing and let the harm continue.

As Jude closed his letter with the encouragement to “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life,” he also admonished, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 21–23). Extreme situations require extreme care, but we are to show mercy even to those trapped in the worst systems of apostasy.

Third, we are to show spiritual mercy by praying. The sacrifice of prayer for those without God is an act of mercy. Our mercy can be measured by our prayer for the unsaved and for Christians who are walking in disobedience.

Fourth, we are to show spiritual mercy by proclaiming the saving gospel of Jesus Christ-the most merciful thing we can do.

The Result of Mercy

Reflecting on the fact that when we are merciful we receive mercy, we see God’s cycle of mercy. God is merciful to us by saving us through Christ; in obedience we are merciful to others; and God in faithfulness gives us even more mercy, pouring out blessing for our needs and withholding severe chastening for our sin.

As in the other beatitudes, the emphatic pronoun autos (they) indicates that only those who are merciful qualify to receive mercy. David sang of the Lord, “With the kind Thou dost show Thyself kind” (2 Sam. 22:26). Speaking of the opposite side of the same truth, James says, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). At the end of the disciples’ prayer Jesus explained, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14–15). Again the emphatic truth is that God will respond with chastening for an unforgiving disciple.

Neither in that passage nor in this beatitude is Jesus speaking of our mercy gaining us salvation. We do not earn salvation by being merciful. We must be saved by God’s mercy before we can truly be merciful. We cannot work our way into heaven even by a lifetime of merciful deeds, any more than by good works of any sort. God does not give mercy for merit; He gives mercy in grace, because it is needed, not because it is earned.

To illustrate the working of God’s mercy Jesus told the parable of a slave who had been graciously forgiven a great debt by the king. The man then went to a fellow slave who owed him a pittance by comparison and demanded that every cent be repaid and had him thrown into prison. When the king heard of the incident, he called the first man to him and said, “ ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:23–35).

In that parable Jesus gives a picture of God’s saving mercy in relation to forgiving others (vv. 21–22). The first man pleaded with God for mercy and received it. The fact that he, in turn, was unmerciful was so inconsistent with his own salvation that he was chastened until he repented. The Lord will chasten, if need be, to produce repentance in a stubborn child. Mercy to others is a mark of salvation. When we do not show it, we may be disciplined until we do. When we hold back mercy, God restricts His flow of mercy to us, and we forfeit blessing. The presence of chastening and the absence of blessing attend an unmerciful believer.

If we have received from a holy God unlimited mercy that cancels our unpayable debt of sin-we who had no righteousness but were poor in spirit, mourning over our load of sin in beggarly, helpless condition, wretched and doomed, meek before almighty God, hungry and thirsty for a righteousness we did not have and could not attain-it surely follows that we should be merciful to others.[2]

7 This beatitude is akin to Psalm 18:25 (reading “merciful” [ASV] instead of “faithful” [NIV]; following MT [v. 26], not LXX [17:26]; cf. Pr 14:21). Mercy embraces both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. No particular object of the demanded mercy is specified, because mercy is to be a function of Jesus’ disciples, not of the particular situation that calls it forth. The theme is common in Matthew (6:12–15; 9:13; 12:7; 18:33–34). The reward is not mercy shown by others but by God (cf. the saying preserved in 1 Clem. 13:2). This does not mean our mercy is the causal ground of God’s mercy but its occasional ground (see comments at 6:14–15). This beatitude, too, is tied to the context. “It is ‘the meek’ who are also ‘the merciful’. For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that we are sinners; to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 48, emphasis his).[3]

5:7 In our Lord’s kingdom, the merciful are blessed … for they shall obtain mercy. To be merciful means to be actively compassionate. In one sense it means to withhold punishment from offenders who deserve it. In a wider sense it means to help others in need who cannot help themselves. God showed mercy in sparing us from the judgment which our sins deserved and in demonstrating kindness to us through the saving work of Christ. We imitate God when we have compassion.

The merciful shall obtain mercy. Here, Jesus is not referring to the mercy of salvation which God gives to a believing sinner; that mercy is not dependent on a person’s being merciful—it is a free, unconditional gift. Rather the Lord is speaking of the daily mercy needed for Christian living and of mercy in that future day when one’s works will be reviewed (1 Cor. 3:12–15). If one has not been merciful, that person will not receive mercy; that is, one’s rewards will decrease accordingly.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 116). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 186–197). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 164). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1216–1217). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1


The writer to the Hebrews gives us good New Testament counsel: “Let us run the race with patience.”

The Holy Spirit here describes Christian believers as runners on the track, participants in the race which is the Christian life. He provides both strong warning and loving encouragement, for there is always the danger of losing the race, but there is also the victor’s reward awaiting those who run with patience and endurance. So, there are important things each of us should know and understand about our struggles as the faithful people of God.

For instance, it is a fact that the Christian race is a contest. But in no sense is it a competition between believers or between churches! As we live the life of faith, we Christians are never to be in competition with other Christians. The Bible makes this very plain!

Christian churches are never told to carry on their proclamation of the Savior in a spirit of competition with other Jesus churches. The Holy Spirit tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus not on others who are also running the race!


Lord Jesus, help me to keep my eyes on You as I run the race of the Christian life.[1]

The Event

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (12:1)

The key phrase of this passage is let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. In the book of Hebrews, as in many places in the New Testament, “let us” may refer to believers, to unbelievers, or to both. As a matter of courtesy and concern, an author frequently identifies himself with those to whom he is writing, whether or not they are fellow Christians.

In Hebrews 4 (vv. 1, 14, 16), for example, I think unbelievers are being addressed. Similarly, 6:1 speaks of unbelievers going on to the maturity of salvation. In 10:23–24, the reference can be both to believers and unbelievers.

In 12:1, I believe “let us” may be used to refer to Jews who have made a profession of Christ, but have not gone all the way to full faith. They have not yet begun the Christian race, which starts with salvation—to which the writer is now calling them. The truths, however, apply primarily to Christians, who are already running.

The writer is saying, “If you are not a Christian, get in the race, because you have to enter before you can hope to win. If you are a Christian, run with endurance; don’t give up.”

Unfortunately, many people are not even in the race, and many Christians could hardly be described as running the race at all. Some are merely jogging, some are walking slowly, and some are sitting or even lying down. Yet the biblical standard for holy living is a race, not a morning constitutional. Race is the Greek agōn, from which we get agony. A race is not a thing of passive luxury, but is demanding, sometimes grueling and agonizing, and requires our utmost in self-discipline, determination, and perseverance.

God warned Israel, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure in the the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1). God’s people are not called to lie around on beds of ease. We are to run a race that is strenuous and continuous. In God’s army we never hear “At ease.” To stand still or to go backward is to forfeit the prize. Worse yet is to stay in the stands and never participate at all, for which we forfeit everything—even eternal heaven.

Endurance (hupomonē) is steady determination to keep going. It means continuing even when everything in you wants to slow down or give up. I can still remember the excruciating experience I had in high school when I first ran the half-mile. I was used to the 100-yard dash, which requires more speed but is over quickly. So I started out well; in fact I led the pack for the first 100 yards or so. But I ended dead last, and almost felt I was dead. My legs were wobbly, my chest was heaving, my mouth was cottony, and I collapsed at the finish line. That is the way many people live the Christian life. They start out fast, but as the race goes on they slow down, give up, or just collapse. The Christian race is a marathon, a long-distance race, not a sprint. The church has always had many short-spurt Christians, but the Lord wants those who will “make the distance.” There will be obstacles and there will be weariness and exhaustion, but we must endure if we are to win. God is concerned for steadfastness.

Many of the Hebrew Christians to whom the letter was written had started well. They had seen signs and wonders and were thrilled with their new lives (Heb. 2:4). But as the new began to wear off and problems began to arise, they began to lose their enthusiasm and their confidence. They started looking back at the old ways of Judaism, and around them and ahead of them at the persecution and suffering, and they began to weaken and waver.

Paul knew some Christians in the same condition, and to them he wrote, “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15) and “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24–25).

Nothing makes less sense than to be in a race that you have little desire to win. Yet I believe the lack of desire to win is a basic problem with many Christians. They are content simply to be saved and to wait to go to heaven. But in a race or in a war or in the Christian life, lack of desire to win is unacceptable.

Paul believed this principle and he had a hupomonē kind of determination. He did not pursue comfort, money, great learning, popularity, respect, position, lust of the flesh, or anything but God’s will. “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:26–27). That is what Christian commitment is all about.

The competition of the Christian life, of course, is different from that of an athletic race in two important ways. First, we are not to compete against other Christians, trying to outdo each other in righteousness, recognition, or accomplishments. Ours is not a race of works but a race of faith. Yet we do not compete with each other even in faith. We compete by faith, but not with each other. Our competition is against Satan, his world system, and our own sinfulness, often referred to in the New Testament as the flesh. Second, our strength is not in ourselves, but in the Holy Spirit; otherwise we could never endure. We are not called on to endure in ourselves, but in Him.

The Christian has only one way to endure—by faith. The only time we sin, the only time we fail, is when we do not trust. That is why our protection against Satan’s temptations is “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16). As long as we are trusting God and doing what He wants us to do, Satan and sin have no power over us. They have no way of getting to us or of hindering us. When we run in the power of God’s Spirit, we run successfully.

The Encouragement to Run

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, (12:1a)

We are all creatures of motivation. We need a reason for doing things and we need encouragement while we are doing them. One of the greatest motivations and encouragements to the unbelieving Jews, as well as to Christians, would be all these great believers from the past, their heroes, who lived the life of faith. The cloud of witnesses are all those faithful saints just mentioned in chapter 11. We are to run the race of faith like they did, always trusting, never giving up, no matter what the obstacles or hardships or cost.

They knew how to run the race of faith. They opposed Pharaoh, they forsook the pleasures and prerogatives of his court, they passed through the Red Sea, shouted down the walls of Jericho, conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, received back their dead by resurrection, were tortured, mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, had to dress in animal skins, were made destitute—all for the sake of their faith.

Now the writer says, “You should run like they did. It can be done, if you run as they did—in faith. They ran and ran and ran, and they had less light to run by than you have. Yet they were all victorious, every one of them.”

I do not believe that the cloud of witnesses surrounding us is standing in the galleries of heaven watching as we perform. The idea here is not that we should be faithful lest they be disappointed, or that we should try to impress them like a sports team trying to impress the fans in the bleachers. These are witnesses to God, not of us. They are examples, not onlookers. They have proved by their testimony, their witness, that the life of faith is the only life to live.

To have a whole gallery of such great people looking down on us would not motivate us but paralyze us. We are not called to please them. They are not looking at us; we are to look at them. Nothing is more encouraging than the successful example of someone who has “done it before.” Seeing how God was with them encourages us to trust that He will also be with us. The same God who was their God is our God. The God of yesterday is the God of today and tomorrow. He has not weakened, or lost interest in His people, or lessened His love and care for them. We can run as well as they did. It has nothing to do with how we compare with them, but in how our God compares with theirs. Because we have the same God, He can do the same things through us if we trust Him.

The Encumbrances That Hinder Us

Let us also lay aside every encumbrance. (12:1b)

One of the greatest problems runners face is weight. Several years ago the winner of a recent Olympic gold medal for the 100 meters came to our country for an invitational track meet. He was considered the world’s fastest human being. But when he ran the preliminary heat, he did not even qualify. In an interview afterward he said the reason was simple. He was overweight. He had trained too little and eaten too much. He had not gained a great amount of weight, but it was enough to keep him from winning—even from qualifying, Because of a few pounds, he was no longer a winner. In that particular race, he was not even qualified to compete.

An encumbrance (onkos) is simply a bulk or mass of something. It is not necessarily bad in itself. Often it is something perfectly innocent and harmless. But it weighs us downs diverts our attention, saps our energy, dampens our enthusiasm for the things of God. We cannot win when we are carrying excess weight. When we ask about a certain habit or condition, “What’s wrong with that?” the answer often is, “Nothing in itself.” The problem is not in what the weight is but in what it does. It keeps us from running well and therefore from winning.

In most sports, especially where speed and endurance count, weighing in is a daily routine. It is one of the simplest, but most reliable, tests of being in shape. When an athlete goes over his weight limit, he is put on a stricter exercise and diet program until he is down to where he should be—or he is put on the bench or off the team.

Too much clothing is also a hindrance. Elaborate uniforms are fine for parades, and sweat suits are fine for warming up, but when the race comes, the least clothing that decency allows is all that is worn. When we become more concerned about appearances than about spiritual reality and vitality, our work and testimony for Jesus Christ are seriously encumbered.

We do not know exactly what sort of things the writer had in mind regarding spiritual encumbrances, and commentators venture a host of ideas. From the context of the letter as a whole, I believe the main encumbrance was Judaistic legalism, hanging on to the old religious ways. Most of those ways were not wrong in themselves. Some had been prescribed by God for the time of the Old Covenant. But none of them was of any value now, and in fact had become hindrances. They were sapping energy and attention from Christian living. The Temple and its ceremonies and pageantry were beautiful and appealing. And all the regulations, the does and don’ts of Judaism, were pleasing to the flesh. They made it easy to keep score on your religious life. But these were all weights, some of them very heavy weights. They were like a ball and chain to spiritual living by faith. These Jewish believers, or would-be believers, could not possibly run the Christian race with all their excess baggage.

Some in the Galatian church faced the same problem. Paul tells them, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:20–21). He goes on, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:1–3). To impress his point even more, Paul says, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” (4:9). “After you started the Christian race,” he is saying, “why did you then put all those old weights back on?”

Another type of encumbrance can be fellow Christians. We need to be careful about blaming others for our shortcomings. But a lot of Christians not only are not running themselves but are keeping others from running. They are figuratively sitting on the track, and those who are running have to hurdle them. Often the workers in the church have to keep jumping over or running around the nonworkers. The devil does not put all the encumbrances in the way. Sometimes we do his work for him.

Let us also lay aside … the sin which so easily entangles us. (12:1c)

An even more significant hindrance to Christian living is sin. Obviously all sin is a hindrance to Christian living, and the reference here may be to sin in general. But use of the definite article (the sin) seems to indicate a particular sin. And if there is one particular sin that hinders the race of faith it is unbelief, doubting God. Doubting and living in faith contradict each other. Unbelief entangles the Christian’s feet so that he cannot run. It wraps itself around us so that we trip and stumble every time we try to move for the Lord, if we try at all. It easily entangles us. When we allow sin in our lives, especially unbelief, it is quite easy for Satan to keep us from running.[2]

1 The intimate connection of these verses with ch. 11 appears in the unusually emphatic “therefore” (toigaroun) that opens this verse. It is immediately followed by kai hēmeis, “we too”; “we” are not only part of the same race but also, as 11:39–40 has explained, the culmination of it, so that all the previous runners are looking to “us” to finish off what they have begun so well. The striking visual metaphor of a “cloud” (nephos) of witnesses (“fig. of a compact, numberless throng” [BDAG, 670]) surrounding the runners further emphasizes the solidarity of the Christian with God’s faithful people through the ages. They are “witnesses” (martyres) because their lives (and in some cases their deaths) witnessed to the unconquerable faith in God for which they were “commended” (11:2, 4, 5, 39—the verb is martyreō, GK 3455), but they are also, as those who trusted God and whose faith has been vindicated, witnesses to the reliability of God’s promises. Moreover, the presence of these “witnesses” (the secondary sense “spectators,” while not the main point, fits the metaphor well) means that to fail to complete the race would be not just a personal disappointment but a public disgrace.

The NT contains several references to the Christian life under the metaphor of an athletic contest (notably 1 Co 9:24–27; Gal 2:2; 5:7; 1 Ti 6:12; 2 Ti 4:7; in this letter already in 10:32); here it is specifically a long-distance footrace for which they are entered. Such a race, run in a very public arena, requires not only maximum concentration but also the removal of all that could reduce performance, pictured in terms of the athletic metaphor as “weights” (NIV, “everything that hinders”; the word could cover excess bodily weight as well as things carried or worn), but then also specified nonmetaphorically as entangling “sin” (in general, not just specific sins). The author coins a graphic term that probably means “easily ensnaring or obstructing,” picturing something, perhaps a flowing garment, that clings around the runners’ legs. Instead, the runners need “perseverance,” the determination to keep going even when it hurts. In 10:32, the author has commended them for this quality in the past and in 10:36 has singled it out as the essential basis for their continuing as God’s faithful people in the difficult situation they now face.[3]

12:1 We must bear in mind that Hebrews was written to people who were being persecuted. Because they had forsaken Judaism for Christ, they were facing bitter opposition. There was a danger that they might interpret their suffering as a sign of God’s displeasure. They might become discouraged and give up. Worst of all, they might be tempted to return to the temple and its ceremonies.

They should not think that their sufferings were unique. Many of the witnesses described in chapter 11 suffered severely as a result of their loyalty to the Lord, yet they endured. If they maintained unflinching perseverance with their lesser privileges, how much more should we to whom the better things of Christianity have come.

They surround us as a great cloud of witnesses. This does not mean that they are spectators of what goes on on earth. Rather they witness to us by their lives of faith and endurance and set a high standard for us to duplicate.

This verse invariably raises the question, “Can saints in heaven see our lives on earth or know what is transpiring?” The only thing we can be sure they know is when a sinner is saved: “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

The Christian life is a race that requires discipline and endurance. We must strip ourselves of everything that would impede us. Weights are things that may be harmless in themselves and yet hinder progress; they could include material possessions, family ties, the love of comfort, lack of mobility, etc. In the Olympic races, there is no rule against carrying a supply of food and beverage, but the runner would never win the race that way.

We must also lay aside … the sin which so easily ensnares us. This may mean sin in any form, but especially the sin of unbelief. We must have complete trust in the promises of God and complete confidence that the life of faith is sure to win.

We must guard against the notion that the race is an easy sprint, that everything in the Christian life is rosy. We must be prepared to press on with perseverance through trials and temptations.[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 372–377). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 167–168). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2202). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

MARK 10:28

Jesus Christ is a Man come to save men. In Him the divine nature is married to our human nature, and wherever human nature exists there is the raw material out of which He makes followers and saints!

Our Lord recognizes no classes, high or low, rich or poor, old or young, man or woman: all are human and all are alike to Him. His invitation is to all mankind.

In New Testament times persons from many and varied social levels heard His call and responded: Peter the fisherman; Levi the publican; Luke the physician; Paul the scholar; Mary the demon possessed; Lydia the businesswoman; Paulus the statesman. A few great and many common persons came. They all came and our Lord received them all in the same way and on the same terms.

In those early Galilean days Christ’s followers heard His call, forsook the old life, attached themselves to Him, began to obey His teachings and joined themselves to His band of disciples. This total commitment was their confirmation of faith. Nothing less would do!

And it is not different today. From any and every profession or occupation men and women may come to Him if they will. He calls us to leave the old life and to begin the new. There must never be any vacuum, never any place of neutrality where the world cannot identify us as truly belonging to Him![1]

28 Verses 28–31 represent a new scene, but one that follows naturally from Jesus’ climactic pronouncement in v. 27. In contrast to the failure of the rich man to give up what he had and to follow Jesus, Peter points out that the disciples had given up everything to follow him. There is a certain ambiguity here. Although the passage positively contrasts the disciples’ willingness to give up everything with the rich man’s unwillingness to give up his wealth, Peter’s statement also carries a slight sense of self-righteous pride: “We have done more than he was willing to do!” Jesus’ response in vv. 29–30 also carries ambiguity: they will receive much in return for their sacrifice, including suffering and persecution! Matthew in the parallel passage reports Peter’s additional words: “What then will there be for us?” (19:27)—further evidence that the disciples (Peter being their spokesman) were still thinking of material values rather than in spiritual terms.[2]

10:28 we have left everything. Peter noted that the 12 had done what the Lord had asked the rich young ruler to do (cf. v. 21) and had come to Him on His terms. Would that self-abandoning faith, Peter asked, qualify them for a place in the kingdom?[3]

10:28 we have left everything. While salvation cannot be earned, allegiance to Christ entails surrendering to Him control of one’s life, including possessions and relationships.[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 868). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mk 10:28). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1757). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

April 13 – Jesus on Murder: Contrast to the Rabbis

You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.—Matt. 5:21–22a

With just two sentences Jesus shatters the rabbinic view of murder, which was so complacently self-righteous. Because of their externalism and legalism, the Jews had an inflated view of themselves. But Jesus destroyed that thinking with the declaration that a person guilty of anger, hatred, cursing, or defamation against another is guilty of murder and worthy of a murderer’s punishment.

All anger, hatred, etc., is incipient murder, as the apostle John writes, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15a). By that biblical standard, we are all guilty of murder—after all, who has not hated someone at one time or another?

Not only does Jesus here sweep away the rubbish of the rabbinic, traditional view of murder, His total indictment blasts away any notion of self-justification so common to everyone. The way the Jews thought in Jesus’ time is identical to people’s prevalent thinking today. Even believers can feel proud that they are “not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers” (Luke 18:11)—and we could add “murderers.” Jesus in that parable and in this passage says we are all potentially capable of the worst sins, even murder, because of the sometimes evil attitudes of our hearts.

Not to consider the state of your heart and confess thoughts of anger and hatred, which can lead to taking someone’s life, is not to consider that the Lord can hold you guilty of murder.

What benefit is found in knowing that you and I are capable of the most heinous crimes imaginable? Does recognizing this startling piece of information have an effect on your relationship with God and your resultant manner of living?[1]

The first of six illustrations of heart-righteousness that Jesus gives in 5:21–48 deals with the sin of murder: You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder.” As discussed in the previous chapter, the ancients refers to the rabbis and scribes of old who had devised the many traditions with which Judaism had become encumbered and which had virtually replaced the authority of the Scriptures. In the first two illustrations the ancient teachings to which Jesus refers are traditional interpretations of scriptural commands.

The murder of Abel was a terrible act, which Cain knew violate divine law (Gen. 4:9, 13). But the first specific prohibition of murder is found later in Genesis: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (9:6). Here the penalty for murder and the reason for its seriousness are given. The penalty was death for the killer, and the reason for such severe punishment was that man is made in God’s image. To take the life of a fellow human being is to assault the sacredness of the image of God.

The specific commandment to which Jesus here refers is from the Decalogue, which every Jew knew The command “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13) does not prohibit every form of killing a human being. The term used has to do with criminal killing, and from many accounts and teachings in Scripture it is clear that capital punishment, just warfare, accidental homicide, and self-defense are excluded. The commandment is against the intentional killing of another human being for purely personal reasons, whatever those reasons might be.

Just as Satan is the father of lies and of those who reject and rebel against God, he is also the original murderer (John 8:44). Men are themselves accountable for murders they commit, just as they are accountable for every other sin; but every sin, including every murder, is inspired by the would-be murderer of God.

Even so, we cannot blame Satan for our sins, because fallen human nature shares the presence of evil that Satan personifies. Jesus said it is out of a person’s own heart that “come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19). We do not sin simply because of Satan or because of social deprivation, stressful situations, bad influences, or any other external cause. Those things may tempt us to sin and make sinning easier, but when we commit sin-or even intend to commit sin-it is because we decide to sin. Sin is an act of the will. When in their rejection of God men “did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful” (Rom. 1:28–31).

“There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16–19). Murder is a despicable manifestation of a fleshly heart. The seriousness of the offense is seen in one of the last declarations in God’s Word: “Outside [of heaven] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev. 22:15).

The Old and New Testaments are filled with the names of murderers. In the Old are Cain, Lamech, Pharaoh, Abimelech, Joab, the Amalekites, David, Absalom, Zimri, Jezebel, Haziel, Jehu, Athaliah, Joash, Manasseh, and many others. The New Testament list includes Herod,Judas, the high priests, Barabbas, Herodias and her daughter, and others. Biblical history, like human history in general, is filled with murderers.

Jesus’ hearers were aware of the prevalence and seriousness of this sin. No doubt most of them were in full agreement with capital punishment for the crime and were convinced that they were innocent of that particular evil.

But now Jesus attacks such self-confidence by charging that no one is truly innocent of murder, because the first step in murder is anger. The anger that lies behind murder-anger which many people think is not really a sin-is one of the worst of sins. To one degree or another, it makes all men would-be murderers.

The Lord’s teaching about murder, whether the act is committed outwardly or not, affects our view of ourselves, our worship of God, and our relation to others.

The Effect on Our View of Ourselves

You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (5:21–22)

The first effect of Jesus’ words is to shatter the illusion of self-righteousness. Like most people throughout history, the scribes and Pharisees thought that if there was any sin of which they were clearly not guilty it was murder. Whatever else they may have done, at least they had never committed murder.

According to rabbinic tradition, and to the beliefs of most cultures and religions, murder is strictly limited to the act of physically taking another person’s life. Jesus had already warned that God’s righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees (v. 20). As the chosen custodians of God’s Word (Rom. 3:2) the Jews, above all people, should have known that God commands heart-righteousness, not just external, legalistic behavior. But because most of them had come to converse in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, and because the rabbis had created a vast collection of traditions, which they taught in place of the Scripture itself, the Jews of Jesus’ day were ignorant of much of the great revelation God had given them. Rabbimc interpretation of Scripture also obscured the divinely intended meaning.

As already pointed out, the traditional command you shall not commit murder was scriptural, being a rendering of Exodus 20:13. But the traditional Jewish penalty, whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court, fell short of the biblical standard in several ways. In the first place it fell short because it did not prescribe the scriptural penalty of death (Gen. 9:6; Num. 35:30–31; etc.). The traditional penalty for murder was liability before a civil court, which apparently used its own judgment as to punishment. In the second place, and more importantly, God’s holy character was not even taken into consideration. Nothing was said of disobedience to His law, of desecrating His image in which man is made, or of His role in determining and dispensing judgment. In the third place nothing was said about the inner attitude, the heart offense of the murderer.

The rabbis, scribes, and Pharisees had confined murder to being merely a civil issue anti had confined its prosecution to a human court. They had also confined its evil to the physical act. In doing so, they flagrantly disregarded what their own Scriptures taught. Long before the time of Christ, David had acknowledged, “Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom” (Ps. 51:6; cf. 15:2). The Lord said to Samuel, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

In saying, But I say to you, Jesus was not contrasting His teaching with that of the Old Testament (cf. Matt. 5:17–19) but with that of rabbinic tradition. He was saying, in effect, “Let me tell what the Scriptures themselves say, what God’s truth is on the matter. You cannot justify yourselves because you have not committed the physical act of murder. Murder goes much deeper than that. It originates in the heart, not in the hands. It starts with evil thoughts, regardless of whether or not those thoughts are brought to consummation in action.”

Here Jesus begins to specifically point up the inadequacy of the righteousness in which the scribes, Pharisees, and many others trusted. Because their view of righteousness was external, their view of themselves was complimentary. But Jesus shatters that complacent self-righteousness by beginning with the accusation that a person is guilty of murder even if he is angry with, hates, curses, or maligns another person. In a statement that may have shocked His hearers more than anything He had yet said, Jesus declares that a person guilty of anger is guilty of murder and deserves a murderer’s punishment.

It is possible for a model, law-abiding citizen to be as guilty of murder as anyone on death row. It is possible for a person who has never been involved in so much as a fist fight to have more of a murderous spirit than a multiple killer. Many people, in the deepest feelings of their hearts, have anger and hatred to such a degree that their true desire is for the hated person to be dead. The fact that fear, cowardice, or lack of opportunity does not permit them to take that person’s life does not diminish their guilt before God. In fact, as the Lord makes plain in the following three illustrations of heart-murder, those who consciously desire the death of another person are not free from guilt.

All anger is incipient murder. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15)-making all of us guilty, because who has never hated another person? In light of the context John used the term brother in the sense of a fellow believer. But Jesus’ emphasis was wider than that. Most of those who heard the Sermon on the Mount made no pretense of belief in Christ, and He used brother in the broad ethnic sense of meaning any other Jewish person in that culture.

Jesus strips away every vestige of self-righteousness. Not only did He sweep aside all the rabbinical rubbish of tradition, but He also swept aside the self-justification that is common to all of us. His indictment is total.

In the spring of 1931 one of the most notorious criminals of that day was captured. Known as Two-gun Crowley, he had brutally murdered a great many people, including at least one policeman. It is said that when he finally was captured in his girl friend’s apartment after a gun battle, the police found a blood-spattered note on him that read, “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one, one that would do nobody any harm?” Even the worst of men try to exonerate themselves. Such obvious self-deceit as that of Crowley’s seems absurd, yet that is exactly the attitude the natural man has of himself. “I may have done some bad things,” he thinks, “but down deep I’m not really bad.”

In essence, that was the self-righteous attitude of the scribes and Pharisees, as it is of many people today. Comparing ourselves to a bloodthirsty criminal makes us seem very good in our own minds. Like the Pharisee in the Temple, we feel proud that we are “not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers” (Luke 18:11). What Jesus says in the present passage is that we are just like those other people. Even if we do not take someone else’s life, even if we never physically assault another person, we are guilty of murder.

Sociologists and psychologists report that hatred brings a person closer to murder than does any other emotion. And hatred is but an extension of anger. Anger leads to hatred, which leads to murder-in the heart if not in the act. Anger and hatred are so deadly that they can even turn to destroy the person who harbors them.

Jesus’ main point here, and through verse 48, is that even the best of people, in their hearts, are sinful and so are in the same boat with the worst of people. Not to consider the state of our heart is not to consider that which the Lord holds to be the all-important measure of true guilt.

In verse 22 Jesus gives three examples that show the divine definition of murder: being angry with another person, saying Raca to him, and calling him a fool.

The Evil and Danger of Anger

everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court. (5:22a)

We know from other Scripture, and from Jesus’ own life, that He does not prohibit every form of anger. It was in righteous anger that He cleansed the Temple of those who defiled it (John 2:14–17; Matt. 21:12–13). Paul tells us to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Although the principle is often abused and misapplied, it is possible to have righteous anger. Faithfulness to Christ will sometimes demand it.

In our day of peace and harmony at any cost, of positive thinking, and of confusing godly love with human sentimentality, we often need to show more anger against certain things. There are things in our country, our communities, our schools, and even in our churches about which we have no excuse for not being angry, vocally angry. Many of the trends in our society, many of the philosophies and standards to which our children are exposed, and some of the unbiblical philosophies and standards within evangelicalism need to be challenged with righteous indignation, because they attack the kingdom and glory of God. God Himself is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11, KJV).

But Jesus is not talking about anger over God’s being dishonored, but rather selfish anger, anger against a brother, whoever that might be, because he has done something against us, or simply irritates and displeases us. Orgizō (to be angry) has to do with brooding, simmering anger that is nurtured and not allowed to die. It is seen in the holding of a grudge, in the smoldering bitterness that refuses to forgive. It is the anger that cherishes resentment and does not want reconciliation. The writer of Hebrews identifies its depth and intensity as a “root of bitterness” (Heb. 12:15).

Such anger, Jesus says, is a form of murder. The person who harbors anger shall be guilty before the court. To be guilty before the civil court should have been to be guilty of murder and deserving of the death penalty. Anger merits execution, because the fruit of anger is murder.

The Evil and Danger of Slander

and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca,”shall be guilty before the supreme court. (5:22b)

Raca was an epithet commonly used in Jesus’ day that has no exact modern equivalent. Therefore in most Bible versions, as here, it is simply transliterated. A term of malicious abuse, derision, and slander, it has been variously rendered as brainless idiot, worthless fellow, silly fool, empty head, blockhead, and the like. It was a word of arrogant contempt. David spoke of persons who use such slander as those who “sharpen their tongues as a serpent; poison of a viper is under their lips” (Ps. 140:3). It was the type of word that would have been used by the soldiers who mocked Jesus as they placed the crown of thorns on His head and led Him out to be crucified (Matt. 27:29–31).

A Jewish legend tells of a young rabbi named Simon Ben Eleazar who had just come from a session with his famous teacher. The young man felt especially proud about how he handled himself before the teacher. As he basked in his feelings of erudition, wisdom, and holiness, he passed a man who was especially unattractive. When the man greeted Simon, the rabbi responded, “You Raca! How ugly you are. Are all men of your town as ugly as you?” “That I do not know,” the man answered, “but go and tell the Maker who created me how ugly is the creature He has made.”

To slander a creature made in God’s image is to slander God Himself and is equivalent to murdering that person. Contempt, says Jesus, is murder of the heart. The contemptuous person shall be guilty before the supreme court, the Sanhedrin, the council of the seventy who tried the most serious offenses and pronounced the severest penalties, including death by stoning (see Acts 6:12—7:60).[2]

21–22 Jesus’ contemporaries had heard that the law given their forefathers (see Notes) forbade murder (not the taking of all life, which could, for instance, be a judicial mandate: cf. Ge 9:6) and that the murderer must be brought to “judgment” (krisis [GK 3213], which here refers to legal proceedings, perhaps the court set up in every town [Dt 16:18; 2 Ch 19:5; cf. Josephus, Ant. 4.214 (7.14); J.W. 2.570–71 (20.5)]; or the council of twenty-three persons set up to deal with criminal matters, Str-B, 1:275). But Jesus insists—the “I” is emphatic in each of the six antitheses—that the law really points to his own teaching: the root of murder is anger, and anger is murderous in principle (Mt 5:22). One has not conformed to the better righteousness of the kingdom simply by refraining from homicide. The angry person will be subject to krisis (“judgment”), but it is presupposed this is God’s judgment, “since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount). To stoop to insult exposes one not merely to (God’s) council (synedrion [GK 5284] can mean either “Sanhedrin” [NIV] or simply “council”) but to the “fire of hell.”

The expression “fire of hell” (geenna tou pyros, lit., “gehenna [GK 1147] of fire”) comes from the Hebrew gêʾ-hinnōm (“Valley of Hinnom,” a ravine south of Jerusalem once associated with the pagan god Moloch and his disgusting rites [2 Ki 23:10; 2 Ch 28:3; 33:6; Jer 7:31; Eze 16:20; 23:37] prohibited by God [Lev 18:21; 20:2–5]). When Josiah abolished the practices, he defiled the valley by making it a dumping ground for filth and the corpses of criminals (2 Ki 23:10). Late traditions suggest that in the first century it may still have been used as a rubbish pit, complete with smoldering fires. The valley came to symbolize the place of eschatological punishment (cf. 1 En. 54:12; 2 Bar. 85:13; cf. Mt 10:28; 23:15, 33 [18:9 for the longer expression “gehenna of fire”]). Gehenna and Hades (11:23 [NIV text note]; 16:18) are often thought to refer, respectively, to eternal hell and the abode of the dead in the intermediate state. But the distinction can be maintained in few passages. More commonly, the two terms are synonymous and mean “hell” (cf. W. J. P. Boyd, “Gehenna—According to J. Jeremias,” in Studia Biblica 1978 [ed. Livingstone], 2:9–12).

“Brother” (adelphos, GK 81) cannot in this case be limited to male siblings. Matthew’s gospel uses the word extensively. Whenever it clearly refers to people beyond physical brothers, it is on the lips of Jesus, and its narrow usage is almost always Matthean. This suggests that the Christian habit of calling one another “brother” goes back to Jesus’ instruction, possibly part and parcel of his training them to address God as Father (6:9). Among Christian brothers, anger is to be eliminated. On the other hand, it is possible that Allison (Studies in Matthew, 65–78) is right in detecting (along with some church fathers) an allusion to Genesis 4, where Cain slays his brother Abel.

The passage does not suggest a gradation and climax of punishments (so Hendriksen, 297–99), for this would require a similar gradation of offense. There is no clear distinction between the person with seething anger, the one who insultingly calls his brother a fool, and the one who prefers, as his term of abuse, “Raca” (transliteration for Aram. rēkâʾ, “imbecile,” “fool,” “blockhead”). To a Greek, mōros (GK 3704) would suggest foolishness or senselessness; but to a speaker of Hebrew, the Greek word might call to mind the Hebrew mōreh (from the verb GK 5286), which has overtones of moral apostasy, rebellion, and wickedness (cf. Ps 78:8 [77:8 LXX]; Jer 5:23).

Many Jewish maxims warn against anger (examples in Bonnard), but this is not just another maxim. Here Jesus does not merely offer advice; he insists that the sixth commandment points prophetically to the kingdom’s condemnation of hate.

Jesus’ anger, expressed in diverse circumstances (21:12–19; 23:17; Mk 3:1–5), is no personal inconsistency.

  1. Jesus is a preacher who gets down to essentials on every point he makes. Thus for a clear understanding of his thought on a particular issue, one must examine the balance of his teaching (cf., e.g., 6:2–4 with Luke 18:1–8). Similarly, to learn all Jesus says about anger, it is necessary to integrate this passage with others such as 21:12–13 without absolutizing any one text.
  2. When suffering, Jesus is proverbial for his gentleness and forbearance (Lk 23:34; 1 Pe 2:23). But if he comes as Suffering Servant, he comes equally as Judge and King. His anger erupts not out of personal pique but out of outrage at injustice, sin, unbelief, and exploitation of others. Unfortunately, his followers are more likely to be angered at personal affronts (cf. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 41–42).
  3. In the context of the balance of themes in Scripture, the handling of hatred is not exactly like the handling of, say, lust or greed. Lust and greed must be suppressed; better, we must triumph over them. But there is a certain sense in which Righteous hatred is to be encouraged (cf. Ps 139), “an indignation wholly directed to wickedness and evil, purged of moodiness, petulance, inflamed irritability, unreasonable suspicion” (Oliver O’Donovan, “Scripture and Christian Ethics,” Case 12 [2007]: 22). Merely to suppress all anger fails to recognize that Scripture also mandates, not least by the example of Jesus, righteous anger—and still love for our enemies. O’Donovan further comments:

When I learn so to hate that I long for the justice of God, then I recognize that that same justice is precisely what my enemy needs. The injustice in the relation is to be put right not only for me, but for him too, because it is God’s justice, which is like the sun which he makes to rise on the evil and the good, and the rain which he sends on the just and the unjust. So I begin to love my enemy as myself, by discovering that what I want for myself I want most profoundly for him too.[3]

5:21 The Jews of Jesus’ time knew that murder was forbidden by God and that the murderer was liable to punishment. This was true before the giving of the law (Gen. 9:6) and it was later incorporated into the law (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). With the words, “But I say to you,” Jesus institutes an amendment to the teaching on murder. No longer could a person take pride in having never committed murder. Jesus now says, “In My kingdom, you must not even have murderous thoughts.” He traces the act of murder to its source and warns against three forms of unrighteous anger.

5:22 The first is the case of a person who is angry with his brother without a cause. One accused of this crime would be in danger of the judgment—that is, he could be taken to court. Most people can find what they think is a valid cause for their anger, but anger is justified only when God’s honor is at stake or when someone else is being wronged. It is never right when expressed in retaliation for personal wrongs.

Even more serious is the sin of insulting a brother. In Jesus’ day, people used the word Raca (an Aramaic term meaning “empty one”) as a word of contempt and abuse. Those who used this epithet were in danger of the council—that is, they were subject to trial before the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land.

Finally, to call someone a fool is the third form of unrighteous anger that Jesus condemns. Here the word fool means more than just a dunce. It signifies a moral fool who ought to be dead and it expresses the wish that he were. Today it is common to hear a person cursing another with the words, “God damn you!” He is calling on God to consign the victim to hell. Jesus says that the one who utters such a curse is in danger of hell fire. The bodies of executed criminals were often thrown into a burning dump outside Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. This was a figure of the fires of hell which shall never be quenched.

There is no mistaking the severity of the Savior’s words. He teaches that anger contains the seeds of murder, that abusive language contains the spirit of murder, and that cursing language implies the very desire to murder. The progressive heightening of the crimes demand three degrees of punishment: the judgment, the council, and hell fire. In the kingdom, Jesus will deal with sins according to severity.[4]

5:21, 22 You have heard … But I say to you. See vv. 27, 31, 33, 38, 43. The quotes are from Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17. Jesus was not altering the terms of the law in any of these passages. Rather, He was correcting what they had “heard”—the rabbinical understanding of the law (see note on v. 38).

5:22 You good-for-nothing. Lit. “Empty-headed.” Jesus suggested here that the verbal abuse stems from the same sinful motives (anger and hatred) that ultimately lead to murder. The internal attitude is what the law actually prohibits, and therefore an abusive insult carries the same kind of moral guilt as an act of murder. hell. A reference to the Hinnom Valley, SW of Jerusalem. Ahaz and Ma nas seh permitted human sacrifices there during their reigns (2Ch 28:3; 33:6), and therefore it was called “the valley of Slaughter” (Jer 19:6). In Jesus’ day, it was a garbage dump where fires burned continually and was thus an apt symbol of eternal fire.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 112). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 290–295). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 181–183). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1219–1220). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mt 5:21–22). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.

—Revelation 16:7

You sometimes hear it said, “Justice requires God to do this.” I’ve probably used this expression myself, though it is semantically improper. The human language staggers when we try to use it to describe God. The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New put such pressure on language that words groan and squeak under the effort to tell the story. We must remember that justice is not something outside of God to which God must conform. Nothing ever requires God to do anything. If you have a god who is required to do anything, then you have a weak god who has to bow his neck to some yoke and yield himself to pressure from the outside. Then justice is bigger than God. But that is to think wrongly.

All God’s reasons for doing anything lie inside of God. They do not lie outside of God to be brought to bear upon Him. They lie inside of God—that is, they are what God is. And God’s reasons for doing what He does spring out of what God is….

God is justice, and God will always act justly—not by compulsion from the outside but because that’s the way He is Himself. Justice must always prevail because God is the sovereign God who will always prevail. AOG061-063

Lord, may we remember that You are not compelled to do anything, but that You will always be fair because You are justice itself. Amen. [1]

Then the apostle John heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” The personified altar echoes the sentiments of the angel with words similar to 15:3. It may be that the very altar under which the saints were earlier seen praying for vengeance (6:9–11) now affirms that God’s true and righteous judgments are the answer to those prayers.

That God’s judgments are true and righteous is the constant teaching of Scripture. They are not like the capricious judgments associated with false pagan gods. In Genesis 18:25 Abraham asked rhetorically, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” David wrote in Psalm 19:9, “The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether,” while in Psalm 119:75 the psalmist added, “I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous.” Paul wrote of “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). In 19:1-2 John “heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.’ ”[2]

16:7 The altar probably symbolizes the souls of martyred saints (6:9). They had waited long and patiently for their persecutors to be punished.[3]

16:7 altar. The personified altar echoes the words of the angel, reinforcing the truth that God is just in all judgment (19:1, 2; cf. Ge 18:25; Ps 51:4; Ro 3:4).[4]

16:7 I heard the altar saying Refers to those that dwell beneath the altar—the martyrs. This is the ultimate vindication in response to their query in 6:10.

righteous God has avenged the blood of the martyrs. The murderers received righteous retribution.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). Revelation 12–22 (p. 143). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2373). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Re 16:7). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 16:7). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

April 13 – A Helpful Fear

You are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread.

Isaiah 8:12–13, nasb


In the days of the prophet Isaiah, Ahaz king of Judah faced a crisis in the impending invasion of the Assyrian army. When Ahaz refused an alliance with the kings of Israel and Syria against Assyria, they also threatened to invade Judah. Behind the scenes Ahaz had allied with Assyria. Isaiah warned Ahaz against that ungodly alliance, but told him not to fear. The king was only to fear the Lord and not be troubled.

In the same sense, a Christian is not to be shaken by whatever hostilities threaten him. Fearing the Lord will help him face opposition with courage and see suffering as an opportunity for spiritual blessings, not as an opportunity to compromise his faith before the believing world.

To be dedicated to the Lord in the face of persecution demands that your mind and affections be set on heavenly values, not earthly ones. If you’re preoccupied with possessions, pleasures, and popularity, you’ll fear the enemy’s assaults. But if you’re heavenly minded, you’ll rejoice when you encounter various trials.[1]

12–15 A number of conjectural emendations have been suggested to aid our understanding of this passage, but none has commanded general scholarly approval. The text makes excellent sense as it stands and should be approached in its integrity. The NIV margin takes qešer in v. 12 in the more formal sense of a treaty, while the text understands it in its more usual sense of a conspiracy. But if God is speaking here of a conspiracy, who is under criticism? The commentators are divided, some taking the verse to refer to the political situation in which Ahaz is involved through the threat of the two northern kings, others thinking that it is Isaiah and his disciples (v. 16; the verbs in v. 12 are plural) who are under criticism from the people. If v. 12b balances v. 12a, the former interpretation is the more likely.

Isaiah and those who welcome his message (“you” in v. 13a is plural; cf. v. 18) are to epitomize the response all the people should have made to his message (cf. 7:2), for a deep reverence for God (cf. 29:23) banishes the fear of humankind. Miqdāš (“sanctuary”; v. 14) comes from the same root as taqdîšû (“you are to regard as holy”; v. 13). God will himself be a holy place in the midst of his people (cf. Ex 40:34–38; Jn 1:14; Rev 21:3).

The prophet has already shown in his language that he regards the division of the kingdom as a tragedy of divine judgment (7:17). Both houses will face further judgment from God because of their attitude in the present crisis, though the mention of Jerusalem suggests he has Judah chiefly in mind. Perhaps he takes the judgment of apostate Israel for granted.

Isaiah uses two analogies to picture this judgment. God is often described in the OT as a “rock” (e.g., Dt 32:4, 15, 18; Pss 18:2; 71:3), normally with implications of shelter and refuge. Here the prophet turns this familiar figure against the people. God the Rock is for his people who trust him, but he is against those who refuse to believe. To them God will be either a boulder over which a person falls in the darkness or a loose rock at the edge of a ravine. Isaiah has already pictured people under the divine hand of judgment having to become hunters again (7:24); now he speaks of God as the divine Hunter, who uses bird snares and spring traps as foils for his victims.

The NT writers saw the ultimate, divinely-given object of faith to be Christ. Human beings reveal their attitude toward God by their faith in Christ or by their rejection of him, so the NT writers applied this prophecy to him (Mt 21:44; Lk 2:34; Ro 9:33; 1 Pe 2:8). The importance of this passage for the NT is shown by the fact that so many different NT writers quote or allude to it (see also the comments at Isa 28:16).

It is impossible in English to convey the terrifying force of the seven Hebrew words that constitute v. 15. All five of the verbs end with the same long vowel, and four of these open with the same letter and follow one another in unbroken sequence. We may attempt something like the following: “They will stumble, many of them, they will fall, be smashed, snared, seized.” This conveys a little of the sentence’s form but does scant justice to its extreme terseness or to its auditory power.[2]

8:11–15 God deeply impressed upon Isaiah a surprising message. The holy God, who is the sanctuary for frightened human beings, is also the snare for those who do not fear him. Judah and Jerusalem wring their hands over surface-level crises (7:2, 6, 16), with little awareness of the grandeur of God. By disregarding God, they find him to be an obstacle they cannot evade. First Peter 3:15 uses language from Isa. 8:13 to identify Isaiah’s the Lord of hosts (v. 13) with Jesus Christ.[3]

8:12 conspiracy. The people considered Isaiah a traitor because he said that Ahaz and his administration were wrong to rely on Assyria.

8:13 fear … dread. It is not people (v. 12), but the Lord who is the object of fear. The kings of Syria and Israel seem dangerous to Judah but the Lord can bring their threat to nothing. Even Assyria can do nothing without the Lord’s permission. He is the ultimate authority to whom all must submit, in whom all must trust, and to whom everyone must render an account (12:2; 33:6; 50:10; 59:19; Pss. 25:12–15; 34:11–14).[4]

8:12 Do not say: The commands in vv. 12, 13, 15, 19 are in the plural. Perhaps Isaiah’s adversaries were labeling his rejection of an alliance with Assyria a conspiracy.

8:13 Hallow means to treat as holy. Your fear indicates a sense of reverence, awe, and wonder. Your dread indicates fright and terror. If the people want to be frightened, they should be frightened of God. If they want to respond to God correctly, they should treat His name with awe and fear Him (Ex. 20:20).[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 118). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 523–524). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1256). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1135). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 817). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

April 13 – Peter’s Repentance

“Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, ‘Before a cock crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75


Even when a believer sins greatly, God is there to forgive and restore.

Peter’s denial of the Lord Jesus was a great tragedy. But Peter had already taken a number of steps toward denial before uttering a single word that repudiated Christ. First, he presumptuously boasted that he would never fall away (Matt. 26:33). Second, Peter was insubordinate to Jesus and blatantly refused to accept the Lord’s prediction of his disloyalty (v. 35). Third, he was prayerless in the Garden of Gethsemane (vv. 40–41). Fourth, he foolishly and unnecessarily wielded the sword to defend Jesus (vv. 51–52). Finally, Peter compromised himself and willfully went to a place (the high priest’s courtyard) of spiritual danger (v. 69), where his faith could be tested beyond its endurance.

As Peter tried to wait inconspicuously in the high priest’s courtyard, on three occasions he was confronted by other bystanders and accused of being one of Jesus’ followers. Peter’s reaction showed he had lost all sense of reality and awareness of God. Each accusation was a bit more incriminating and provoked a more vehement denial by Peter. After the third denial, according to the Lord’s providence, Peter’s slide was halted. A penetrating look from Jesus Himself (Luke 22:61) and his remembering of Jesus’ prediction that he would deny Him three times were enough to bring Peter to his senses. As our verse explains it, “he went out and wept bitterly.”

Peter’s tears were not merely tears of remorse—they indicated a true sorrow and turning from sin. It was not until he saw Christ’s face and remembered His words that Peter grasped the seriousness of his sin and repented. This is a profound lesson for you and me. Peter’s sin itself did not cause him to repent; his forgiveness and restoration came only when he turned from sin to God. After His resurrection, Jesus affirmed Peter’s restored love three times (John 21:15–17). This gift of restored fellowship through God’s gracious forgiveness is available to all believers (1 John 1:7, 9).


Suggestions for Prayer: Commit your thoughts and plans to God throughout the day so that you may avoid the kind of compromising situation Peter was in.

For Further Study: Read Psalm 51. How does David’s dealing with sin parallel what we saw about Peter’s coming to his senses? ✧ What verses from this psalm are especially helpful in seeing this parallel?[1]

Peter’s Repentance

And he went out and wept bitterly. (26:75b)

The true Peter is not seen in his denial but in his repentance, the first stage of which was deep remorse. Finally realizing the grievousness of his sin, he turned from it in revulsion. Like Judas, he fled into the night; but unlike Judas, he returned to the Lord in faith. His faith had slipped and weakened, but it was genuine faith, and Jesus Himself had prayed that it would not fail (Luke 22:32).

When the magnitude of what he had done finally dawned on Judas, he experienced great regret and a kind of remorse. He probably wished he could live the last three years, and especially the last few hours, of his life over again. But he had no change of heart. He had never repented of his sins and received Jesus as Lord and Savior, and therefore, contrary to Peter, Judas had no faith to weaken. Jesus could not hold Judas because Judas never belonged to Him.

Overwhelmed by His Savior’s love and grace and by his own sin and unfaithfulness, Peter went out and wept bitterly. We are not told where he went or how long he stayed there. He may have returned to the Garden of Gethsemane, where earlier he had felt no need to pray. Wherever it was, it became a private place of confessing sin and seeking forgiveness.

Peter’s tragic experience in the garden teaches a profound lesson about self-trust and unpreparedness and about God’s forgiveness and restoration of a sinning saint. Although the awareness probably did not come to the disciple until his anguish subsided, he had learned never to distrust Jesus’ word again. It finally dawned on him that what the Lord said would happen would happen.

It was not until Peter saw the Lord’s face and remembered the Lord’s words that he came to his senses, acknowledged his sin and helplessness, and repented. His sin did not make him repent. Many people are very much conscious of sin in their lives, readily admitting its reality and its consequences. But until it is surrendered to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, the mere acknowledgement of it will only drive a person deeper into despair and hopelessness and even deeper into sin. Forgiveness and restoration come only from turning from sin to God. That is why true preaching and teaching of the gospel is not simply calling people to turn from their sin. It is lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ so that, in His righteousness and grace, sinful men not only will discover the heinousness of their sin but also the only hope for its removal.

The Lord made good His promise that Peter’s faith would not fail. After appearing to the disciples several times after His resurrection, Jesus three times questioned Peter about his love for Him, just as Peter had three times denied that love. And just as he had thrice denied his love for Christ, Peter then thrice affirmed it (John 21:15–17).

Many years later, near the end of his life, Peter no doubt still remembered vividly that experience in the courtyard. The tragic event was probably in his mind as he admonished fellow believers: “Beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest … you fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:17–18).[2]

26:75 The familiar sound pierced not only the quiet of the early hours but Peter’s heart as well. The deflated disciple, remembering what the Lord had said, went out and wept bitterly.

There is a seeming contradiction in the Gospels concerning the number and timing of the denials. In Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus is reported as saying, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matt. 26:34; see also Luke 22:34; John 13:38). In Mark, the prediction is, “… before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30).

Possibly there was more than one rooster crowing, one during the night and another at dawn. Also it is possible that the Gospels record at least six different denials by Peter. He denied Christ before: (1) a young woman (Matt. 26:69, 70; Mark 14:66–68); (2) another young woman (Matt. 26:71, 72; Mark 14:69, 70); (3) the crowd that stood by (Matt. 26:73, 74; Mark 14:70, 71); (4) a man (Luke 22:58); (5) another man (Luke 22:59, 60); (6) a servant of the high priest (John 18:26, 27). We believe this last man is different from the others because he said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” The others are not described as saying this.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:69–75). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1305–1306). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.